Sunday, June 16, 2024

Kaiserslauten 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen: Talking points as 10-men Werkself show their quality again to complete domestic double

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial 26 May 2024

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On Saturday evening at the Olimpiastadion in Berlin, Bayer Leverkusen bounced back from their Europa League disappointment to land the domestic double by defeating Kaiserslautern in the DFB-Pokal final.

The only goal of the game was the work of Granit Xhaka, an accurate shot from outside the box in the 17th minute. Despite going a man down in the 44th minute when Odilon Kossounou picked up a second yellow card, the difference in quality between the two sides was enough to prevent the Bundesliga 2 team from making a significant effort to get back to level terms.

Leverkusen justify favourites status

Apart from the obvious, there really isn’t much to be said about the game itself. As the newly crowned Bundesliga champions and Europa League runners-up, Leverkusen entered the final as strong favourites against a lower-tier opponent and didn’t find it too hard to prove the difference in quality between themselves and Kaiserslautern.

Xabi Alonso’s team were at a numerical disadvantage for more than half the contest, but they still managed to keep the ball under their control for 61% of the time, firing goalwards twice as many times (14, four on target) as the Red Devils (seven, two on target). For the few minutes between the sending off of Kossounou and the end of the first half, it appeared Kaiserslauter actually stood a chance of taking advantage of the situation, but after the break, when it arguably would’ve been expected of them to make a strong effort, they were beaten into submission again by a team far superior in every aspect of the game, from the sheer football quality to the mentality.

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Kossounou’s second yellow card was arguably the only moment Alonso will not have been happy about. Having already been in the book of referee Bastian Dankert, the Ivorian defender should really have been more careful when he tackled Kaiserslautern’s Boris Tomiak in the closing minutes of the first half. It was utterly reckless and certainly the right decision from Danker. It appears that Alonso made a rare mistake by giving the 23-year-old a start ahead of Piero Hincapie.

The mentality difference

Leverkusen went through 51 games unbeaten in all competitions this season until the painful 3-0 defeat to Atalanta in the Europa League final earlier in the week, and that achievement in itself is quite enough to show the vast strength of the mentality of Die Werkself. The loss to the Serie A side and the one trophy that slipped through their fingers was perhaps a reminder of the need to stay focused, an error that only proved them to be human. But to return from that to their usual level and clinch another trophy in just a few days, that’s a mark of a truly great team, even if the opposition wasn’t of the same quality as that from the Europa League final.

On the other hand, the Kaiserslautern fans will have been greatly disappointed by what they saw from their team in this game, particularly in the first half. A goal down and a man up for the second 45 minutes was surely a good setting for them to move further up the pitch and attack in search of an equalizer, perhaps to even try and turn the game around completely, but they obviously weren’t prepared for such a scenario, and head coach Friedhelm Funkel will have to take a large part of the blame for that. His team came into the game expecting to be under severe pressure from the German champions throughout, and they simply didn’t have a game plan for any situation that might actually put them in a position to try and take control of the contest. They defended well, but when you’re a goal down and have more players on the pitch for the entire second half, good defending simply isn’t enough.

All in all, Leverkusen have now completed one of the greatest seasons in the history of German football, and this team fully deserves to be remembered for a long time.

Funkel’s farewell

Kaiserslautern appointed Funkel in February to lead them through the remainder of the season and save them from a desperate battle to avoid relegation from the 2. Bundesliga, and he certainly delivered as his team finished in 13th place. That being a very good job in itself, reaching the final of the German Cup was a truly great achievement in the circumstances, and even the Leverkusen fans showed great appreciation for it after the final whistle.

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The 70-year-old will now take a deserved break from work, and it remains to be seen if he returns or decides to turn it into retirement. Regardless of his eventual decision on that front, Kaiserslautern will have to look to someone new to take them forward in 2024/25.

“I have absorbed the whole event here around the game. It was an incredible feeling for us to be celebrated in front of the curve. It just makes you want more,” said Funkel in his first interview after the game.

“I would like to return at some point,” he added.

Where will Leverkusen go from here?

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This will be the question many will be eager to learn the answer to next season. Xabi Alonso has already confirmed he’ll be staying on despite the interests from the likes of Bayern Munich and Liverpool, with the former now reportedly wrapping up the appointment of Vincent Kompany and the latter already announced Arne Slot as their new head coach.

Alonso’s stay at the BayArena probably means key players staying at the club too, and that will mean a lot given that there’s plenty of reported interest in the likes of Florian Wirtz, Jeremie Frimpong, Victor Boniface and several others. The squad will surely need further additions with the prospect of playing in the Champions League next season.

It will be very interesting to see if, having played the way they played in 2023/24, Leverkusen will have what it takes to hold off Bayern Munich when they come to try and reclaim the Bundesliga title next term, and to make a significant impact in the Champions League as well.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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